Transport for London bidding to run Buenos Aires metro system
Londoners may complain about the capital’s tube network, but Buenos Aires is so impressed that it is considering turning to Transport for London to run its commuter system.
London’s publicly owned transport operator is bidding to take control of the Argentinian capital’s metro system, the Guardian has learned, in what would be the first time in recent years TfL has expanded overseas.
The foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, is understood to have raised the potential bid with Argentinian officials during a recent tour of South America, where he promised to seek post-Brexit trade deals.
Under the proposal, TfL would use its expertise to help install a management team to run the Buenos Aires network, with staff potentially drawn from the existing London network.
The news that the publicly owned TfL could export its rail expertise comes as British commuters struggle with the botched implementation of a new timetable for privately run rail services across large parts of the country. In London commuters have experienced widespread cancellations on Thameslink services, which are not controlled by TfL.
The Buenos Aires contract is potentially worth about $3.5bn (£2.6bn) over 10 years, with TfL in line for about a quarter of that sum.
TfL is bidding as part of a consortium that includes the French business Keolis and the Argentinian Corporación América conglomerate. The final bid is due to be submitted within the next few weeks, with the TfL consortium facing competition from the Paris Métro and the local Argentinian provider.
Many UK railway franchises are ultimately controlled by foreign nationalised railway companies, leading to regular complaints that British commuters are subsidising commuters in France, the Netherlands, and Germany.
If TfL’s bid for the Argentinian contract is successful it would represent a rare case of money flowing back from overseas into a publicly owned UK transport organisation.
TfL faces a funding squeeze after losing its £700m central government grant, lower-than-expected passenger numbers, and the decision of the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, to impose a fare freeze during his first four-year term.
As a result, Khan has ordered the creation of Transport for London Consulting, building on a manifesto commitment made during his 2016 election campaign. The new organisation has a brief to pitch for work around the world and reinvest profits in London’s transport network. The organisation says any overseas work will not interfere with its domestic operations.
TfL announced last week it has hired Helen Murphy to run its new consultancy arm and she is due to take up the job next month.
The transport organisation has also signed a deal with a third-party consulting group to license its contactless ticketing system to other metros such as Sydney.
A TfL spokesperson said: “We are examining a wide range of options to generate additional commercial income to invest in running and modernising transport in London. This potentially includes helping with the operation of transport infrastructure on behalf of other cities.”